University remedial English to end

Remedial courses taken by most first-year Emirati university students are to end.

ABU DHABI // Remedial courses taken by most first-year Emirati university students because high schools fail to prepare them for higher education are to end. The bold move is contained in the long-anticipated Ministry of Education Strategy 2010-2020, which was published last night on the website of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The move appears to be a challenge to the country's public schools to better prepare pupils for university. The ministry intends to immediately start work on plans to eliminate foundation programmes. No time line on when foundation courses will be phased out has been released. The 27-page plan, which lists a series of objectives but does not offer specifics on how they will be accomplished, also recommends an overhaul of the national public school curriculum, increases in the amount of time pupils will spend in class, sets new national assessment standards. It also calls for measures to ensure that better trained teachers are recruited.

The strategy replaces a 2008 plan. Ninety-four per cent of the approximately 9,200 students who enter federal universities must take the foundation courses. The remedial programmes focus particularly on improving students' English-language skills. While public schools teach in Arabic, universities teach in English. It has been reported that foundation courses take up a third of the teaching budgets of the three federal universities - Zayed University, the Higher Colleges of Technology and UAE University.

Instead, the plan calls for more of the learning that takes place during the foundation year to happen during the public school years. Additionally, the strategy takes aim at the country's high-school dropout rate. Another key objective is to integrate pupils with disabilities currently in special centres into public schools. The ministry has been working on this goal for the past few years and recently started moving children with mild disabilities into schools.

Taking cues from developed nations, including South Korea, France, Finland and Singapore, the strategy suggests career counselling be introduced into schools. Students should also be given more choice over what courses they take in high school to ensure they receive a "varied and multi-faceted education". The strategy also addresses school budget shortfalls, calling for a "new budgeting process" to "ensure that schools receive funds that address their specific needs to improve their facilities".

The plan says standards to assess school infrastructure and services should also be introduced.